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Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Cowboys' low football IQ is puzzling

By Gregg Easterbrook

Multiple choice question on the entrance examination for Princeton University:

When holding a big lead in the second half, a football team should:

1. Keep the clock moving.
2. Run the ball.
3. Employ clock-management tactics.
4. Pass, pass, pass, pass!

Apparently Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, a Princeton grad, chose Answer 4. How else to explain the Boys' epic collapse versus the Green Bay Packers? From the point at which Dallas took a 26-3 lead, the home team executed 23 passing plays and seven rushing plays. The pass plays resulted in eight incompletions, including two interceptions. The turnovers provided the visitors the ball and incompletions stopped the clock, allowing Green Bay time for a comeback that resulted in a lead with 1:31 remaining. Had Dallas simply run up the middle for no gain rather than throwing incompletions, the Cowboys would have prevailed.

The Boys' lack of football IQ was, if anything, even worse than the final fiasco suggests. Taking possession with 4:17 remaining and a five-point lead, Dallas threw incomplete, stopping the clock, then a moment later threw the interception that positioned Green Bay for its go-ahead score. On the day, the Cowboys rushed for 134 yards on 18 carries, a sparkling 7.4-yard per rush average. Adjusting for sacks, the Cowboys had 51 passing plays, for a 6.5-yard average gain per passing down. Though Dallas was getting better yardage on the ground than in the air -- Green Bay has one of the league's lowest-ranked run defenses -- in a clock-killer situation, the Cowboys kept throwing.

"We probably could have run the ball more," Garrett declared after the game. No kidding! The Boys have 21 coaches, and this apparently did not occur to any of them at the time.

Game in and game out, the Dallas Cowboys, led by a Princeton graduate and representing the state that is the center of American football culture, display low football IQ.

Two seasons ago, Dallas led Detroit 27-3 in the second half at home. From that point until the Lions capped their last-second comeback victory, the Boys ran 12 passing plays and 11 rushing plays, resulting in three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, and five incompletions that stopped the clock. In that contest, too, had Dallas simply run up the middle for no gain in the second half, the Cowboys would have prevailed.

There's something beyond low football IQ in the latest Cowboys meltdown. Postgame, Garrett noted that in the second half, Green Bay kept one of its safeties near the line of scrimmage, anticipating rush -- why on Earth would the Packers expect that? -- which made passing plays attractive. It's true that only one safety "high" is a look any quarterback would like. But the Cowboys didn't need to make passing plays, they needed to keep the clock ticking!

Garrett is a former college quarterback. Dallas owner Jerry Jones gave Romo the league's largest salary. Jones has invested heavily in receivers, but not in backs. It's as if the Dallas braintrust thinks that only big numbers in the passing game count in modern football.

In their October home loss to the Broncos, the Cowboys took possession with the game tied, 2:39 remaining, holding all their timeouts. High-IQ football would be to work the ball slowly down the field, exhaust the clock and kick the winning field goal with seconds showing. Instead Dallas went sack, interception, watch Broncos win. This may be a pass-wacky era -- the top of the passing stats page is dominated by winning teams while woeful Washington and Buffalo are third and fourth in rushing . But because throwing the ball is the epitome of the modern game isn't a reason to throw away a win -- which the hapless Cowboys just did.

Of course being in the NFC East, they remain very much alive. If the NFL East title comes down to the anything-can-happen Eagles at the low-IQ Cowboys on Dec. 29, one of the wackiest games ever may be in store.

In other football news, the Miami Dolphins defeated the favored New England Patriots largely in the same manner the Jersey/A Giants beat them twice in the Super Bowl -- by putting pressure on Tom Brady using a conventional four-man rush. Brady was sacked only once but hit often, causing his throws to be hurried. The game's key play came with New England leading 20-17, Miami facing fourth-and-5 on its 45 with 2:45 remaining. The Genetically Engineered Surimi were holding all three timeouts, so the "safe" thing would have been to punt. Coach Joe Philbin had the Dolphins go for it, converting and scoring the winning touchdown on the possession.

In TMQ news, this column's Authentic Games Index now predicts a Super Bowl pairing of New Orleans versus Denver, despite both losing in Week 15. The losses came to teams that don't count as Authentic, though what does count as an Authentic victory varies weekly depending on the performance of other teams -- kind of like high-school playoff bonus points. New Orleans is now a league-best 6-2 in Authentic Games, with Seattle second in the NFC at 4-2 and Denver first in the AFC at 4-2. Here's the thing -- a Saints-Seahawks playoff contest would be played in Seattle, where the Bluish Men Group is close to invincible, while New Orleans is terrible on the road.

In curse news, Sports Illustrated had Nick Foles on the cover -- and the Eagles, on a 5-0 streak, promptly were destroyed by a cellar-dwelling Vikings club that had Matt Asiata subbing for Adrian Peterson. If I were Peyton Manning, I'd be a little nervous about just being named Sportsman of the Year by the selfsame Sports Illustrated. And the calendar says December, so the Boys must be collapsing from their Christmas Curse. Tony Romo is 24-5 on his career in November, 12-22 for the remainder of the season.

In draft news -- the draft already being all that matters to several NFL fanbases -- St. Louis supporters whooped it up when Washington's last-second deuce try clanged to the ground incomplete. The Rams hold Washington's first-round pick, a choice now sure to be near the top. Looks like it will come down to either Houston or St. Louis (using Washington's choice) selecting first. Who would have expected Houston and Washington, playoff teams last season, both to tank?

Stats of the Week No. 1: Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota and Washington made the playoffs last season, and since their final game of that season are a combined 13-46-1.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Stretching back to last season, the Panthers are on a 14-4 run.

Stats of the Week No. 3: Josh Gordon has 841 receiving yards in his past five games; Cleveland lost all five.

Stats of the Week No. 4: Denver is averaging 24 points and 346 yards against San Diego, 41 points and 471 yards against all other teams.

Stats of the Week No. 5: The Saints are 7-0 at home, where they average 33 points, and 3-4 on the road, where they average 18.5 points.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Green Bay possession results in the second half at Dallas: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.

Stats of the Week No. 7: St. Louis has wins by 30, 25 and 21 points and losses by 24, 24,and 20 points.

Stats of the Week No. 8: Indianapolis went 37 consecutive first-half possessions without a touchdown.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Since winning the Super Bowl, the Giants are 14-16 and have committed 54 turnovers.

Stats of the Week No. 10: The Seahawks have allowed 565 fewer punt return yards than the R*dsk*ns. Reader Jason Eisner of Danville, Va., notes that Washington's average punt return allowed is nearly the same as total punt return yards allowed by Seattle.


To kill the next couple of weeks, Robert Griffin III should:


Discuss (Total votes: 9,975)

Sweet Play of the Week: San Francisco facing second-and-goal on the City of Tampa 4, the Squared Sevens lined up in an old-fashioned I-backfield. Colin Kaepernick turned right and threw a backhanded lateral left to the tailback running left -- the Flip 90 play that was the favorite of Marshall Faulk in the Rams' glory days. Wait, it's a fake Flip 90! Kaepernick actually kept the ball and rolled right to find Michael Crabtree for a touchdown.

It was a big day for the Flip 90 -- Browns and Bears tied at 24, Chicago faked an end-around then ran the Flip 90 to Matt Forte for 19 yards, setting up the go-ahead touchdown in Chicago's win.

Sour Play of the Week: Game scoreless at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati faced third-and-1 on its 16. The Bengals lined up with fullback BenJarvus Green-Ellis at tailback and backup tight end Alex Smith at fullback. The play was a power dive with Smith leading; he stutter-stepped around then blocked no one, play stuffed. Green-Ellis lead-blocking for a tight end would have been more promising!

Cincinnati chose to punt on fourth-and-1. The punter bobbled the snap then, standing just ahead of the goal line, allowed himself to be tackled rather than retreating into the end zone for a deliberate safety or simply tossing the ball out of the back of the end zone. This gave Pittsburgh possession on the Cincinnati 1, and a touchdown followed. In the recent Maryland big-school state championship, Northwest High of Germantown defeated Suitland High partly because the Northwest punter, Trint Coulter, had the presence of mind to bat a bad snap out of the end zone in exactly this situation. So the high school player showed football IQ, and the professional did not. Very sour.

On the ensuing kickoff, Cincinnati's Cedric Peerman inexplicably called fair-catch, stranding the visitors at their 9. Pittsburgh forced a punt. Facing fourth-and-4 on the Cincinnati 31 after the punt, the Steelers went for it: Heinz Field is notoriously hard on long field goals attempts, and a 26-degree kickoff temperature with gusty wind complicated matters. Pittsburgh converted and soon led 14-0. The Bengals were off to a sour start from which they never rebounded.

Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Miami leading 24-20, visiting New England faced fourth-and-5 on the Dolphins' 14 with seven seconds remaining. On a drive that began at the Flying Elvii 20 with 1:15 on the clock, all Tom Brady's completions had been on slants or curls. Two wide receivers lined up right; Austin Collie ran a quick slant and was open; Miami intercepted, game over. Sweet for a team that has lost seven straight to New England.

Before the down, Miami called timeout to let its defense take a deep breath -- usually a smart move in this situation . On the field for the injury-depleted Dolphins secondary was Michael Thomas, a practice-squad gentleman who had never appeared in a regular-season game. Thomas was one of three Miami defensive backs across from the combo on Brady's right. At the snap, Thomas seemed unsure of whom to cover, so he just stood there -- and Brady threw the ball right to him. Perhaps when Brady looked at film of Dolphins' coverages, there had never been anyone standing in that spot, so the New England quarterback assumed no one would be there. Sour for the three-time Super Bowl victor.

Wacky Whisky of the Week: The Johnnie Walker whisky firm cranks out as many branding concepts as Nike. Well-known Red Label and Black Label are joined by Double Black, Blue Label, Gold label and Platinum Label; Green Label has been retired though still may be found in stores. Double Black is said to possess "deep-charred intensity." Platinum Label is said to be a "private blend" -- the requirement for joining this "private" club is handing over $100 at the cash register. Gold Label is said to be a "limited edition" -- limited to the number of persons willing to purchase. Blue Label is blended from "hand-selected" casks and "influenced by the smoke of the west," which sounds like a good reason to avoid western Scotland.

Whisky is among those products in which psychology of presentation is essential. Many buyers, even those who boast of their fine noses, would praise a cheap scotch in a fancy bottle but complain of an expensive scotch poured from behind the label of a cut-rate brand. If a fancy bottle with a gold detail makes the customer feel he's holding something special, both buyer and seller are pleased.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback asks of whisky what I ask of wine-tasting -- is there anyone, including the Walker company's "master blender," who could do better on a blind taste test of scotch than the people who swore they could tell New Coke from Old Coke? A bottle of Blue Label costs $200, a bottle of Red Label $25. TMQ wagers that if a dram of each were poured into numbered glasses, the majority of diehard scotch-drinkers could not distinguish which one sells for eight times more than the other. TMQ would like a see a blind taste test in which glasses of each of the Johnnie Walker whiskies are put before scotch lovers who are told, "One of these has deep-charred intensity. Identify it."

The Stadium Gods Chortled: On Monday night, Detroit lost to Baltimore on a 61-yard Justin Tucker field goal with seconds remaining. The defeat was the price Lions fans pay for sitting indoors in comfort. As the kick boomed, outside the temperature was 8 degrees Fahrenheit -- -- there is no chance such a long kick would have succeeded if the game had been played outside in weather, as the football gods intended. But Detroit thoughtfully provided ideal kicking conditions for opponents, and now sees its playoff hopes fading.

Cars Come Roaring Back: Last week the final government shares of General Motors were sold. The United States invested $50 billion in The General in 2008 and got back $40 billion. That's a $10 billion loss in the way politicians think, and a $25 billion loss in the way economists think, since they take into account opportunity cost. (Fifty billion dollars conservatively invested in 2008 would be about $65 billion today.) Regardless, the result exceeded expectations in many respects. And it may be that the recovery of General Motors added more to the overall economy than the $25 billion that was the taxpayers' loss. So theorists are left with a quandary. Bailing out an arrogant, poorly managed company violated every rule of market economics. Yet five years later, the country is better off.

General Motors capped its comeback by naming Mary Barra the first female CEO of an American automaker. Women have run consumer-products companies: the women are now getting opportunities to run heavy manufacturers. Without much fanfare, defense contractors Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics have chosen female CEOs.

With the car comeback complete, Washington can now shut down some unneeded agencies, right? If only. Barack Obama created an Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers. The Government Accountability Office ranked this office among those that are superfluous, finding the Auto Recovery Office pure bureaucratic dead weight.

Yet this office lives on. Its spending is low by Washington standards, and Obama has proposed the office be eliminated. If Congress ever enacts a federal budget -- five years and counting with nothing but "continuing resolutions" that preserve existing boondoggles -- perhaps the Auto Recovery Office will go. That Washington struggles to get rid of a trivial agency with nothing to do shows what a gridlocked mess federal administration has become.

Manly-Man Deuce Try: Scoring to pull within 28-27 with 17 seconds remaining, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons went for two and the win. The play didn't work, but was the right call -- advancing to overtime is a 50/50 proposition anyway. Plus, the call shortened the amount of time Mike Shanahan still has to coach the Persons.

In the same situation -- scoring to pull within a point with a few seconds remaining in regulation -- Tennessee coach Mike Munchak did the "safe" thing and kicked an extra point; the Flaming Thumbtacks went on to lose in overtime. So both teams in the last-second-deuce-to-win situation lost the game. At least Washington used the bold strategy.

Hurray for Cars! Car culture is back in part because, adjusted for inflation, gasoline costs about what it did in the 1950s, while vehicles use less fuel per mile. Five years ago, United States auto manufacturing was at a fraction of capacity. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, nearly half of American auto plants are running double shifts. U.S. auto sales ("autos" includes pickup trucks) peaked at 17.5 million in 2005, dropped to 10.4 million in 2009, and this year may hit 16 million. Perhaps the surge would have happened without the federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler. But since there was a bailout and then conditions improved, government action deserves some credit; while Ford deserves major congratulations for refusing taxpayers' money and recovering entirely on its own. Car culture being back may mean decades more of clogged traffic, greenhouse emissions and parking headaches, but that's a separate issue.

Auto manufacturing employment continues to decline, which would have happened in any case, owing to improving factory technology. Dividing production by workforce, in 2005, the typical American autoworker made 19 cars. Last year the number was 22 cars per worker, and the 2013 figure is sure to be higher. Improved productivity is good for society, causing overall prosperity to rise, but results in fewer hourly jobs at factories. This is not because jobs are going to China -- manufacturing employment is declining there, too. Soon there won't be any nation in the world with a factory-labor economic base. The worry is that as health-care and pension costs rise, companies will have ever-more incentive to substitute capital for labor, accelerating the rate of factory employment decline. But that seems the only cloud on the horizon for the car business.

Detroit's rebound traces to American manufacturers finally learning to match imports for quality. The Ford Fusion is now a hot seller in all-important California, home of trends in automotive taste. A milestone was reached when the new Chevy Impala became the first American sedan in 20 years to get the Consumer Reports top rating. Cars such as the Fusion and Impala are roomy, fuel-efficient, packed with electronics and safety features, and most important, well-built. Low manufacturing quality caused the Detroit decline: high quality is leading the rebound.

Since the vibrations are good, there's no better time to celebrate the absurdity of car tech.

Lexus and Chrysler now offer eight-speed automatic transmissions; the 2014 Jeep Cherokee will have nine-speed automatics; General Motors and Ford recently announced a joint venture for 10-speed automatic transmissions. Cars with as many speeds as bicycles! Cars, such as the Lincoln MKZ, now have pushbutton gearshifts, a "new" feature previously seen on the Edsel. The Dodge Ram has a rotary dial to select the gear. Many automakers are offering wheel-mounted "paddle shifters," which give drivers an illusion of stick-shifting without clutch effort. All these ideas move the gear selector away from the center console, freeing space for infotainment, as the driver is evolving from the person who controls the car to a consumer of electronics -- an evolution the Google-style autonomous car may someday make complete.

The new Mazda 6 has a capacitor that stores braking energy to run accessories, reducing engine load and resulting in an impressive 30 mpg using regular gasoline. (That's the "combined" mileage number, the only one that matters.) "Automated launch control" -- which keeps tires from spinning during hard acceleration, something we surely should encourage on public roads -- has cropped up on high-end cars such as Mercedes, Porsche and the Nissan GTR. The current model year finds it in affordable vehicles, including the Volkswagen GTI. For 2015 cars, this gizmo will be offered in the latest restyling of the Mustang.

The new Subaru Impreza is an affordable car with symmetrical all-wheel-drive, one of several names for all-wheel systems that deliver power to the ideal wheels; once only on high-end vehicles, such drives soon may be a common touch. (The Impreza is also a PZEV, California's weird category for "partial zero" emission control.) Xenon headlights -- better view without blinding oncoming drivers -- are on ever-more models. Volkswagen's new Scirocco boasts "bi-xenon" headlamps that adjust to conditions. Audi touts LED headlights that come "as close as we could to recreating daylight," with an asterisk to the tiny type disclaimer, "Based on brightness comparison to the sun." Oh, so daylight is from the sun! (The Audi A4 catalog devotes a page to insulting American lager as "cheap" and "mass-produced" compared to German beer.)

The Nissan Versa Note numbers among economy cars that have electronic brake distribution and stability control, features once found only on luxury cars. Technology often starts off as for the rich -- television, mobile phones, laptops -- then drops in price and can be had by anyone. This progression is in evidence in many auto categories.

Backup cameras and lane-departure warning devices are now on many mid-range vehicles, such as the Honda Accord. The $100,000 Mercedes S class offers a 3D camera that reads road conditions and adjusts the suspension; two infrared cameras (one far-infrared, one near-infrared) scanning for pedestrians; and not one, not two, but three radars that watch for other cars.

The latest Kia Cadenza has "hydrophobic side-window glass," which one assumes is glass that repels water. Some Lexus models have "g-force artificial intelligence," whatever that means. The BMW 7 series offers seats with "16 pulsating massage buds." The Cadillac CTV-S has a "performance seat" option at $3,400. What kind of performance the seats will give is unclear. The top-end Range Rover sports a 1,700-watt stereo -- about 1,000 watts more than anyone could stand, let alone want -- plus "cooled massaging seats." The most expensive Lexus, at $105,000, offers Executive Seating that includes lumbar message, power rear headrests and power rear sunshades. How dreary to have to lower the sunshade yourself!

The MKZ has a moonroof so large the car appears to be a convertible, recalling the glass-roofed Mercury Montclair Sun Valley of the 1950s. Honda will sell you an Earth Dreams engine, if driving along a freeway makes you dream of preserving the Earth. The new Stingray is drawing rave reviews; Corvettes finally have a rigid body structure, like Porches. A $1,200 option is quad tailpipes that are said to produce a pleasing engine "note." Dual tailpipes have been a macho-car feature for a generation. Now the 'Vette offers four -- what car will be first with six tailpipes?

Wretched excess continues in the horsepower department. The latest 7-series BMW series boasts a zero-to-60 time of 4.3 seconds; the company's ads say, "Get pinned to your seat." What possible function is served by such power, except road-rage driving? The ads don't mention 15-mpg fuel consumption or 9.7 tons of greenhouse gases annually. (A BMW television ad shows a 3-series simply traveling down a road; tiny type says, "Professional driver do not attempt." You can't drive your car down a road?) The new Cadillac CTS-V has 556 horsepower, gets 14 mpg and emits 10.2 tons of greenhouse gas annually. Versions of that engine can be found in several General Motors cars -- a too-potent motor developed partly at taxpayer expense, even as Congress mandated higher fuel-economy standards for future cars.

Moderate horsepower can be combined with efficient design to produce a nice mix of accelerate and mileage. The new Buick Encore crossover SUV, for example, has plenty of power and delivers 26 mpg. The new Mercedes CLA does zero-to-60 in seven seconds -- ample acceleration for any purpose other than cutting others off in traffic -- yet delivers an excellent 30 mpg on the combined scale. This is a landmark in auto engineering: let's hope the CLA's power-mileage balance, now for the affluent, eventually spreads to many vehicles. Beware, however, the back seat of the CLA, which is a four-door model with a terrifying 27 inches of rear legroom. That's less than a coach airline seat: coach seats average 31 inches.

If Only He'd Call the Owner Chainsaw Dan: At his strange news conference last week, Ultimate Leader Mike Shanahan did everything possible to shift blame from the disappointing season of the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. TMQ thinks sitting Robert Griffin III makes sense: the R*dsk*ns are eliminated, further injury to the franchise player accomplishes nothing. But for Shanahan, the decision seems more about setting up RGIII for the blame. During the years Shanahan had John Elway in his prime, the Ultimate Leader was 54-18. In all other years, Shanahan is 124-124. With each successive season, there seems more evidence Shanahan was just the guy who was standing there when Elway realized his potential, and otherwise is a mediocre coach.

During the news conference, Shanahan repeatedly referred to the Persons' owner as "Dan." An NFL custom is that owners are always addressed as "Mr." or "Mrs." This is a feudal affectation to be sure; but a firm unwritten rule of the league. Shanahan's repeated use of "Dan" shows two things: the Ultimate Leader condescends to the owner, and Shanahan wants to get fired, so that he must be paid the remaining value of his contract. If he resigns, he's owed nothing.

Fun fact: In the Atlanta at Washington contest, there were lost fumbles on three consecutive downs.

Will Briles and Griffin Be Reunited? How much credit does Chip Kelly deserve for development of the blur offense? Dave Sheinin argues that Art Briles, now of Baylor, did most of the pathbreaking work, at the Texas high school level in the 1990s. TMQ hopes that for his own sake, Briles stays put. A college town, adoring kids, high pay -- why come to Washington to have knives thrust into your back?

Speaking of Sheinin, his instant bio of RG3 is first rate. Griffin may be down but he's not out. Sheinin presents the evidence that he is a fine person as well as fine athlete.

The Moon Is Like So 1960s: Chang'e-3, China's first spacecraft to soft-land on the moon, touched down successfully over the weekend, and deployed an automated rover. The rover is likely to find … some rocks. India has launched its first interplanetary mission, a probe now en route to orbit around Mars. Unless it is foiled by the Mars Curse -- 24 spacecraft sent toward the red planet by the United States, Russia, European Union and Japan have failed, exploded or vanished.

These developments mean China and India have pulled within a half-century of American space technology -- the United States soft-landed a probe on the moon in 1966 and placed a satellite into orbit around Mars in 1971. Other nations should feel free to spend their money seeking space prestige. Let's not hear American commentators saying the projects represent any kind of challenge to the United States.

Perhaps the moon race was justified by international competition, but that justification expired when the Eagle landed at Tranquility Base. If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, international competition is the last refuge of space programs. The United States has been there, done that with the moon and Mars. Our space dollars should go to propulsion research and asteroid defense.

When Will a Carmaker Bring Back Kandy Apple Red? Car colors have long been a source of amusement and sales appeal. The 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood could be had in Celadon Green Metallic or Pacific Coral. The original Mustang came in Springtime Yellow, Honey Gold, Tropical Turquoise and a choice of Arcadian Blue or Caspian Blue. By 1970, the car industry was having fun at its own expense -- the Ford Maverick offered groovy color names such as Thanks Vermillion.

New Lincolns can be had in Ingot Silver or Bordeaux Reserve. The Chrysler 300, in which "edition" is a key marketing term, has a Glacier Edition in Billet Silver Metallic, or a John Varvatos Edition in choice of Gloss Black or Phantom Black. Apparently buyers are supposed to believe the Varvatos car looks ultra-cool because Varvatos himself dresses like a bum. Acuras come in Silver Moon or Forged Silver, in Crystal Black Pearl and the all-but-identical Graphite Luster Metallic. Audis are available in Brilliant Black or Phantom Black or Moonlight Blue, which looks a lot like black; in Ibis White or Glacier White. My favorite Mustang color name was Legend Lime; no longer available, but Gotta Have It Green may be ordered. A Honda may be had in Hematite Metallic, Modern Steel Metallic and Champagne Frost Pearl.

The more the car costs, the fancier its color names. The Jaguar F-Type looks sharp in Firesand Orange, whatever firesand is. Cadillac offers Black Raven or Black Diamond. There's Opulent Blue Metallic -- no Indigent Blue Metallic -- and Summer Gold. BMW must have a full-time staffer for color names: on its pallet are Sakhir Orange Metallic, Space Gray and Champagne Quartz. Proprietary paint finishes have long been a calling card of Ferraris, and now can be ordered on Cadillacs. Buyers can pay for Tintcoat ("extra depth and brightness"), Tricoat ("dramatic hue shifting color") or Chromaflair ("intense, deeply lustrous color ").

Color isn't just for the skin anymore. Cadillac's sports-car models offer painted brake calipers -- $595 for your choice of red or yellow.

Next They'll Say the Pope Is Polish! In previous centuries, this correction would have been composed in a torture chamber.

Did the Bolts Expose Denver's Weakness? The Broncos looked average in losing at home to San Diego, outrushed 177-18 on their own field. Denver faces lower-echelon Houston and Oakland to close out the regular season, then may sit for a bye week. The Broncs could open the playoffs six weeks removed for their last significant win, at Kansas City on Dec. 1. Peyton Manning often hasn't played well in January when following a long stretch without an important game.

The Bolts' defense posted a fine performance, employing multiple funky fronts, including five to seven on the line within the tackle box as if concerned primarily with stopping the Broncos' run game, then most dropping off in a zone rush. Teams facing the fast-snap Denver offense have tended to use vanilla fronts, concerned with making sure everyone is in position before the snap. San Diego defensive coordinators John Pagano (brother of Chuck) had the Bolts' front seven form so many funky fronts that he must have given at least two players the green-light to move around at random -- no defense could have learned dozens of fronts on the short week leading up to a Thursday game. Defenders moving randomly pre-snap seemed to frustrate Peyton Manning's chicken-dance checks and audibles. NFL defensive coordinators are going to spend a lot of time with film of this contest; Manning may see considerable random movement in the playoffs.

San Diego leading 24-17 in the fourth quarter, the Bolts showed an overload blitz from Manning's left. Manning flapped his arms and called several checks. At the snap, both seeming overload blitzers dropped into coverage, then a corner blitzed from the opposite side. There was significant line confusion: six Denver blockers couldn't handle four rushers. Manning was hit as he threw: interception and the game's decisive play.

TMQ's Christmas List: No executive desk is complete without a handcrafted model of the Titanic, from the 32-inch version for $315 to the 40-inch "museum quality" model to the $1,995 edition "with signed nameplate and coal." The museum-quality model is "specially built" for sale only by the New York Times. Thus mainstream media outlet wants buyers to associate its brand with a sinking ship.

Tired of a coworker sniping at you behind your back? Open fire: "The launcher can fire its foam missiles as individual spotting rounds to zero-in a target up to 15 feet away, or bury an enemy with an all-ordnance onslaught, accompanied by realistic launch sounds."

The Official Car of TMQ: Last winter when car shopping, I promised readers to report my choice: which was an Acura TSX manual-transmission model. My goal was a sports sedan with decent gas mileage (25 mpg) and not too much power (201 horsepower), plus a stick shift while they still exist. That narrowed the field quite a bit. I occupy the moral high ground because my family's four previous car purchases were of vehicles built in the United States: anyway now that Detroit is recovered, partly at public expense, buyers should feel good about choosing whatever marque seems best to them. The TSX has so-so exterior styling but the interior looks great and is comfortable, the interior of a vehicle mattering more than the exterior. Plus no touch screens. Someday I'll own a car with touch screens and a continuously variable transmission. I want to postpone that day as long as possible.

The car's manual is packed with warnings. "An open glove box can cause serious injury in a crash," the document cautions. Another section warns, "If outside temperature is low, the gear shifter may feel cold." The owner sternly is warned not to adjust the steering wheel while the car is moving -- presumably anyone stupid enough to do that won't read the warning. "Avoid driving in deep water," the manual declares. There goes my plan to drive in deep water, though perhaps fording streams is OK. Both sun visors, like those on many contemporary cars, offer bright-colored airbag cautions -- essentially, warning of a dangerous safety device. "If the hood opens while driving, your front view will be blocked," the manual counsels.

Yet the manual, like all new-car manuals, says nothing about speeding or drinking and driving. Owners are cautioned to beware of the glove box, while the common risks of driving are ignored.

Automakers long have wanted drivers held responsible for all aspects of crashes. So my car's manual presumes the manufacturer must tell me that the gear shifter gets cold: maybe I did not know that. Obeying traffic laws, driving considerately, not mixing alcohol and car keys -- those things I should already know. Automakers think that merely mentioning the everyday risks of driving might cause some court to conclude that a car manufacturer knew its customers might drive way too fast or drive drunk, and failed to engineer the product to protect against this. By saying nothing about safe driving, manufacturers seem to think they shed liability.

Use the Phone While Driving? Fine with the Government. Avoid Speed Traps? No Way! Like a wide range of late-model cars and pickup trucks, my new car not only has no equipment to discourage speeding or drunken driving, it has embedded electronics to encourage cell phone use behind the wheel. Some 3,328 people were killed by distracted-driving incidents in 2012: government is campaigning against cell use and texting while driving. Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said the driver's cell phone should been turned off when the car is in motion. All the data show that hands-free calls while driving are dangerous too.

Yet my new Acura has a Bluetooth device that syncs to my mobile, letting me use the phone through the car's speakers; the driver talks through a microphone provided specifically for cell use in motion. There are answer-call and end-call buttons on the steering wheel.

Some 2014 car models go further, with devices that read a text message to the driver, then transcribe a response into a text to be sent as the car moves. Such gear is legally installed in new cars, though could lead to the driver being ticketed in some states. Government simultaneously tells the public that cell phone use while driving is extremely dangerous, yet allows automakers to market technology that encourages cell phone use while driving.

While the electronics in a new-car dash are all about creating distracted driving, there's one thing your factory-installed navigation system won't do. It won't provide alerts for automated cameras that issue speeding ticket. Aftermarket GPS devices supply warnings about speed and red-light cameras ahead. In-dash automaker-sold systems won't.

So far as I could determine, government regulations do not ban automakers from offering ticket warnings by in-dash nav systems. Automakers appear to censor themselves on this point. Perhaps in-dash nav systems don't warn of ticket cameras because automakers know the true purpose is revenue for government. Automakers don't want to anger government by depriving it of cash to squander. If government got angry, it might impose road safety rules!

Speed cameras near schools make tremendous sense, but how many are not near schools? And if what government wanted was to discourage speeding, brightly lit signs proclaiming "SPEED TRAP AHEAD" would serve that purpose. Instead ever-smaller cameras issue tickets whose true purpose is to make money for government. Automakers won't sell cars with built-in warnings against speeding, but actively market technology that causes distracted driving. What's wrong with this picture?

The Football Gods Chortled: Chicago trailing Cleveland 10-3, Da Bears lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Browns 24. Chicago jumped offside, making the down fourth-and-6. The Bears kicked a field goal, but were called for holding, making the down fourth-and-16. The possession ended with a punt.

Plus There's a Duke Basketball Subplot: "Alpha House," the Amazon television show written by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau and produced by bestselling author Jonathan Alter, is a total hoot. Amazon Prime members can watch free, while anyone can tune in the first three episodes at no cost. Disturbingly true to Washington, D.C., nonsense, "Alpha House" storylines involve a senator sold out to the mohair lobby -- "You're in the pocket of Big Goat," a character declares -- and a Marco-Rubio-like politician who is taking Spanish lessons in private so he can claim minority status.

If Two Hovercraft Existed, They Would Collide: Amazon drones and personal helicopters are fun to talk about. Your columnist's favorite was the personal hovercar, which Popular Mechanics said would be available in the late 1960s in sedan, sports or pickup truck configurations. Imagine thousands of these trying to cut each other off for a landing spot on Black Friday.

"The Blacklist" Update: TMQ has quoted James Parker as noting that while all TV shows contain some nonsense, to make a show that consists entirely of nonsense is a minor art form. The fall's ratings hit, "The Blacklist," consists entirely of nonsense. The producers are artists!

In the recent midseason cliffhanger, a small army of bad guys assaults an FBI black-ops site. It's never clear for whom the bad guys are working, other than a mysterious "Big Bad" character (hilariously underplayed by Alan Alda) who declares "the people I represent" have awesome power. Apparently there is an "Unbelievable Secret" that the people he represents must cover up. Just what that secret is will depend on how many episodes NBC orders. An "Unbelievable Secret" was at the core of the 2012 ABC prime-time action serial "Last Resort," and when the network dropped the show midseason, viewers never found out what the secret was. The writers never found out, either.

"The Blacklist" attack on the FBI site is carried out by 20 super-disciplined commandos with carbines and grenades, backed by a paramedic and an electronics expert. All blindly follow a leader who is obviously insane, and most end up dead. In Batman movies and other action fare, it's never explained why henchmen blindly follow a leader who's obviously insane.

The attack begins with a half-dozen FBI guards, who wear armored vests and carry assault weapons, being gunned down. They never take cover or return fire, just allow themselves to be shot in what is obviously an attack -- a truck rushes into the black-site perimeter. If you're thinking of changing careers, don't become a guard who wears an armored vest and carries high-tech weapons. In action TV shows and movies, such guards always allow themselves to be slaughtered. Don't worry -- later, a 125-pound woman will single-handedly kill everyone responsible for the outrage.

Though the private army that attacks the FBI facilities has commandos, explosives, sophisticated electronic jammers, insider information from the White House and can execute split-second chase-scene maneuvers, in the end they are caught because they do not know cell phones can be tracked.

In the pilot of "The Blacklist," viewers were told the black-ops site is in suburban Maryland. But when bad guys roar away from the site to start the chase scene, the United States Capital is down the street. And how did the bad guys escape from an FBI facility that was, by that point, surrounded by hundreds of law enforcement officers? They used an abandoned train tunnel -- too bad it wasn't a sewer! -- that ran under the site and somehow was known to them but not to the FBI.

As the chase progresses, the female lead, played by actress Megan Boone, yells into her phone, "We are on Constitution Avenue." Overhead we see rusting Chicago El-style elevated subway tracks -- there aren't any on Constitution Avenue, or anywhere in the District of Columbia.

In the pilot, the antihero played by actor James Spader walked into what viewers were told is FBI headquarters in Washington. But it's plainly not FBI headquarters, which for good or ill is a distinctive structure. In the background at "FBI headquarters" is a sign for One Federal Plaza, a location in Manhattan. Though most action is said to occur in Washington, D.C., much of the outdoor filming seems to have been done in the New York City area or on Long Island. This comes in handy! At one point, heroic agents inside their "Washington" facility get a tip about bad guys in Brooklyn. They race to their car and reach the scene in minutes.

Warning sign about "The Blacklist": There have been only 10 episodes, and already Boone's character has exhibited the worst cliché of action cinema: she snatched the gun out of a bad guy's hand faster than he could pull the trigger. Do not try this unless the bad guy is an actor.

They're Not Only All Above Average, They're All Outstanding: The Harvard Crimson reports the median grade at Harvard is an A-minus. "The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A," a dean told a faculty meeting. If practically everybody is straight-A, that suggests getting into Harvard is really hard, but once there, the rest is falling-off-a-log.

Wasteful Spending on Bodyguards Watch: Reader Terrance Stanton of Oak Park, Ill., notes this report, by Murray Weiss of DNAinfoNewYork, that outgoing NYC police commissioner Ray Kelly will get a 10-person NYPD security detail after he leaves office. Cost to taxpayers: $1.5 million per year. Weiss writes, "The detail will include a lieutenant, three sergeants and six detectives to chauffeur and protect Kelly and his family around-the-clock in the Big Apple and even out of town… Kelly has made himself the face of fighting crime and terrorism in the Big Apple, and has argued he's a target of threats, in need of continuing protection."

If Kelly or his family actually has received any credible criminal threats, the NYPD should investigate them. Perhaps instead Kelly is claiming "threats" in quotation marks to justify a lavish ego-feeding perk. As for terrorists, George W. Bush's National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States concluded that no specific American individual has ever been targeted by terrorists, whose aim has always been the public. For Kelly to say he needs protection against terrorists is transparent nonsense. The worst that has happened to him because of his office was bad manners by spoiled students at Brown University.

Most likely what Kelly will use the multimillion-dollar security detail for is to cut to the heads of lines, speed through Manhattan with sirens on, double-park and generally treat himself like visiting royalty. A man surrounded by police officers isn't safe on the subway, he needs a driver too! Note he has a lieutenant in his detail: the lieutenant's job likely will be to pull rank and demand special treatment for Kelly. Kelly's family gets a security detail, so his wife and children can cut to the front, double-park and act important -- the retired commissioner's wife will have more bodyguards than the president of Uruguay. Have family members of a retired New York City police commissioner ever been targeted by criminals trying to retaliate against that commissioner? Should Kelly sign with a lecture agency and start making high-paid corporate speeches, he will strut in surrounded by security as if he were a head of state, pocket the fee, then hand taxpayers the bill for his self-promotion.

A former police commissioner of any city should have a "uniform" by his side when he makes a public appearance; a $1.5 million detachment of personal handservants is another matter. Kelly has been bragging relentlessly about declining crime rate in New York City. If crime is down, why does he need the largest security detail ever for a former commissioner? The reason is not what he claims, that's for sure.

Goofy NBA Trade: TMQ contends the primary role of an NBA general manager is getting rid of players, in order to clear cap space to sign free agents the team soon will want to get rid of. In January 2013, Rudy Gay was traded from Memphis to Toronto in what called a "roster and salary purge." Last week, less than a year later, Toronto traded Gay to Sacramento in a move said was aimed at "offloading his contract." Now Toronto has cap space to sign someone the Raptors soon will wish they could offload. And how long until Sacramento is desperate to be rid of Gay?

During TMQ's Bye Week: Atlanta punted on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 35 -- it took the Packers just five snaps to pass the point where the ball would have been, had the Falcons gone for it. Atlanta lost. Down by 13 points in the second half, low-football-IQ Dallas punted on fourth-and-4 in Chicago territory. The Bears drove the other way for the touchdown that turned the game into a walkover. Down by 24 points, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons punted on fourth-and-1. Angered, the football gods caused the punt to be returned for a touchdown. Trailing No. 1-ranked Florida State 14-0, mega-underdog Duke punted on fourth-and-3 in Florida State territory. You don't need to know anything else about the contest.

On the final down of the Miami at Pittsburgh game, referee John Parry correctly signaled that Antonio Brown stepped out-of-bounds before his apparent winning touchdown, depriving the home fans of a spectacular ending. This contradicted TMQ's Parking Lot Theory of officiating, which holds that on the final play, zebras side with the home crowd so they don't get hassled in the parking lot. A Tuesday Morning Quarterback immutable law proven wrong? In the offseason I will journey alone to a distant mountaintop to be admonished by the football gods.

When the Broncos notched a record 64-yard field goal on the final snap of the first half versus Tennessee, this supported TMQ's contention that Minnesota should have attempted a 76-yard fair-catch field goal on the final snap of overtime versus Green Bay. If a 64-yarder is possible versus a rush, isn't a 76-yarder possible versus no rush? Reader Kevin Woodward of Louisville, Ky., noted, "As soon as the 64-yard try left the kicker's foot, the Broncos went into a cover formation, in case of a runback. Nick Saban should have been taking notes."

Weasel Coach Watch: For the third consecutive year, Arkansas State lost a head coach who had just started the job, then immediately went elsewhere when money was waved. Two years ago, Hugh Freeze left for Ole Miss. Last year, Gus Malzahn went to Auburn. This year, Bryan Harsin departed for Boise State. Perhaps the school should change its sports mascot from Red Wolves to Weasels.

The 500 Club: Hosting Towson, Eastern Illinois gained 511 yards and lost. The Panthers of Eastern Illinois averaged 48.2 points and 589.5 yards of offense per game, yet failed to reach the FCS semifinals. Reader Brian Lurk of East St. Louis, Ill., reports, "Cold Coach = Victory was in effect. Eastern Illinois' coach was so bundled up the only part of his face viewers could see was his eyes. Towson's coach didn't even have a hat on." In this season of Xbox offense, Stephen F. Austin, the top-ranked ranked passing school in the FCS, finished 3-9, while Cal Poly, No. 1 in rushing, finished 6-6. Portland State averaged 35 points per game, and finished 6-6.

Obscure College Score: Lenoir-Rhyne 42, West Chester 14 (Division II semifinal). Located in West Chester, Pa., West Chester University has an Advancement Division.

Obscure College Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: In the Division III playoffs, Mary Hardin-Baylor trailed Wisconsin Whitewater 16-12 and faced fourth-and-goal on the Whitewater 3-yard line with 3:32 remaining. That cannot be the field goal unit trotting in! You don't need to know anything else about the game.

Next Week: What will the Cowboys do for an encore, punt on first down?

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.